About 63 percent of American adults drink at least one sugary drink every day, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Coca-Cola was the #1 soft drink in 2022 and 2021, with Pepsi in second place, according to brand valuation consultancy Brand Finance.
And while vintage bottles of Coke evoke nostalgia and a frosty glass of root beer may remind us of childhood, soda (pop or soda-pop) isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. With the high sugar content and possible negative effects of diet sodas, excess of it can be a danger to our health. Here’s what one expert has to say about making the healthiest choice.
What is the healthiest soda?
Sorry, there is no healthier soda when it comes to the traditional soft drink. Pepsi, Coke, Sprite, Mountain Dew Whatever your preference, a similarly sized soda will have roughly the same sugar and caffeine content.
But there are some healthier ways to consume soda, says registered dietitian Chris Mohr. To get started, you can swap in a smaller can—a 20-ounce bottle of Coke, for example, contains 65 grams of sugar. The American Heart Association’s daily sugar limit recommendation is 36 grams for men and 25 grams for women.
But if you simply must *have* your afternoon Coke, a 7.5-ounce mini can is a better choice with 25 grams of sugar.
Another quick change could be to grab a diet soda. Diet soda contains artificial sweeteners instead of sugar, so you’re consuming far less sugar and calories than you would with regular soda. It may be better than a regular soda, but neither is a great option, Mohr says. Indeed, the World Health Organization announced this week that aspartame (found in diet sodas) is a possible carcinogen.
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Why is soda bad for you?
The biggest red flag hanging over soda is that it contains no nutritional value. Our bodies need protein, fat, complex carbohydrates, and other vitamins to survive, and soda doesn’t add any goodness, just added sugar.
They add a huge chunk of that sugar she was already consuming too much, Mohr says. Sugar-sweetened beverages, including soft drinks, fruit drinks, and energy drinks, are the largest source of added sugars in American diets.
According to the CDC, consuming too many sugary drinks can lead to weight gain and obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and tooth decay. It is also associated with lower intakes of milk, calcium and other nutrients.
Can an occasional soda make it into your diet without health consequences? Sure, Mohr says.
If it’s Friday night pizza and you want a soda, great. But I definitely wouldn’t recommend a daily soda at all, Mohr says. I think most people who drink soda drink too much.
Is there healthy soda?
Colorful health sodas with viral marketing strategies are popping up at a grocery store near you. They’re called prebiotic and probiotic sodas, which boast less sugar, added fiber, and fruit juice.
Olipop has Vintage Cola and Classic Root Beer flavors. Poppi has a rival Doc Pop Dr. Pepper. Culture Pop has a Lemon Lime flavor. According to Mohr, these nontraditional sodas can be a great swap if you crave a soda but want to make a healthier choice.
Taste-wise, as someone who doesn’t drink soda, I think they’re pretty comparable and significantly better for you, Mohr says. They’re also significantly more expensive.
They’re better than traditional soda, but they’re not miracle cures, she says. Probiotics contain live microorganisms that increase the amount of beneficial microbes in our body, which help fight bad bacteria and keep us healthy. Prebiotics are infused with plant fibers that feed the microorganisms that live in our guts. But nutrition experts told the Washington Post they doubt sodas are enough to have a significant prebiotic effect and shouldn’t be seen as a shortcut to getting more fiber.
How to cut down on soda
Quitting soda can be difficult, especially since sugar and caffeine can both be addictive. Instead, Mohr recommends cutting back before cutting.
Could you try cutting down to just one less than what you’re drinking now? Mohr says.
He also recommends a practical approach: Fill the cup to the brim with ice so it takes up a lot of space. You will subconsciously feel like you are drinking a normal amount of soda by drinking less.
What to drink instead of soda
You can also try replacing traditional soda with a less sugary drink. Ask yourself this question: Why are you craving soda in the first place?
It depends on the itch you want to scratch, says Mohr.
If you’re after flavor, try a healthier soda on a classic flavor. Mohr also recommends kombucha: Regular kombucha doesn’t taste like soda, but you can find fake root beer and cream soda flavors.
If you want bubbles, a simple swap is seltzer water. Seltzer comes flavored, sweetened with juice, or just plain and carbonated.
If caffeine is what you’re after, Mohr recommends switching to tea or coffee before the soda. A homemade or store-bought cup of joe probably has even more caffeine than a can of soda, a 12-ounce cup of coffee will have about 120 to 160 milligrams of caffeine, and Pepsi has just under 40 milligrams.
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